Public Service For People And TUI Congress : Premal Kumar Khanal
The 12th international congress of Trade Union International (TUI) Public Service is being held on February 13-14 in Kathmandu Nepal. TUI (Public Service), one of the most powerful centres among the 10 sectors like Education, Hotel & Tourism, Construction, Metal and Mining, Agriculture, Bank Insurance and Finance, Retired and Pensioner, and Energy has been raising the voice of those professionals employed in the public sector.
Formed in 1949 after the establishment of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) on October 3, 1945, the first Congress of TUI Public Service was held in Berlin, Germany. Afterwards, a series of congresses were held in different parts of the world. The 11th Congress of the Trade Union was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2009.
Socialist and progressive trade unions of different countries can apply for the membership of TUI. So far more than 20 million public sector employees are with this umbrella organisation from more than 30 countries. In Nepal, the Nepal Government Employees’ Organisation (NEGEO) is the member organisation of the TUI, which has been working as the Board of Directors from 1995 after formal recognition was given to its membership.
The 12th Congress is being organised by NEGEO and co- organised by TUI (Public Service) member organisations: Public Enterprises Employees Association Nepal (PEEAN), National Association of Health Professionals Nepal (NAHEP) and Association of Local Government Employees Nepal (ALGEN). The congress, a convergence of socialists and progressive professionals worldwide, will be coordinated by the Confederation of Nepalese Professionals (CONEP).
More than 132 foreign delegates as well as 100 plus host delegates are participating in this congress to discuss and reach a common platform under the slogan, “Against Privatisation and Capitalist Reforms, Public Service for People".
The people’s movement of 2006 resulted in epic changes in the history of Nepal. The changes and achievements of the people’s movement have been astonishing and exemplary for the global community. In the context of Nepal being a major tourist destination, the congress of the labourers in the public sector is a historic event to promote tourism and the identity of Nepal.
From the 1990s, proponents of a free economy and international financial agencies like the World Bank, IMF and WTO have brought forward policies of a liberal economy, privatisation and globalisation. They have been advocating that the government must renounce its direct involvement in the production and distribution of goods and services in the economy, and that such economic activities should be determined by the market forces. As a result, privatisation came into operation in the public sector of Nepal.
Though the public sector must remain dedicated and effective to provide services to the public, the public sector has started to constrict as the government has jumped into the bandwagon emphasising ‘lean government, lean management’ by operating public services through the private sector.
It was highlighted that the size of the government was large. The voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and compulsory retirement scheme (CRS) was enacted to substantially lessen the number of employees in the government sector. The government did not pay attention to addressing the need of providing public services quickly to the public by extending the centralised and unitary structure of governance and creating additional opportunities of employment in this sector. This resulted in a large decrease in employment opportunities in the public sector.
On the one hand, the labour force in the market is increasing by 0.5 million annually. On the other hand, employment opportunities in the government sector are thinning. Consequently, there has been an increase in the number of unemployed educated persons in the country, and the unemployed young are compelled to immigrate to foreign countries.
The type of work these migrant workers find in foreign countries is not respectful and secure. They mostly do 4D work that is dangerous, difficult, dirty and demeaning. All these facts clearly reveal that privatisation of the public sector has not benefited the country and the people. The policy of curtailing the public expenditure and avoiding long-term financial obligations by the government has encouraged the discontinuation of social security like pensions for newly appointed labour employees in the government sector. Likewise, the government has adopted the policy of outsourcing and hiring workers on contract rather than appointing employees permanently to accomplish its responsibilities.
The segregation of employees between “eligible for pension” and “ineligible for pension”, “eligible for promotion” and “ineligible for promotion”, “permanent” and “contract” and “eligible for transfer” and “ineligible for transfer” has set a discriminatory policy in practice.
There is intense political interference in the public enterprises. The public entities have been privatised on political ground, blaming them for being financially weak. There was a need of making the public enterprises more dedicated to provide service to the nation and the people by giving security, motivation and encouragement to them.
Notwithstanding such needs of the country, the enterprises fell prey to political interference, and the environment for maintaining autonomy and professionalism of the enterprises were hard hit. They, as a result, were made to turn into problematic public enterprise. They were presented as a burden to the nation, and their privatisation was brought into operation. More than three dozen public enterprises have been privatised.
The nation has not realised any increment or improvement in the privatised enterprises in terms of production, distribution, service, price, revenue and employment. Conversely, the movable and non-movable property worth hundreds of millions of rupees has been transferred from the ownership of the nation to the ownership of individual(s). The privatisation in the sectors of natural resources, drinking water, energy, communication, transportation, education and health has created a situation where the ordinary people cannot use public services in a simple and easy manner.
The policy of privatization has battered the economic and social rights of the people. Though it is the responsibility of the state to provide basic needs like education, health, accommodation, food, drinking water, transportation in a simple and easy manner, the services of these sectors are now in turmoil created by privatisation. These services are inaccessible to the ordinary people. Those who do not have money have to suffer to get even the basic needs and facilities. They cannot get higher education as per their will nor can they have medical facilities accordingly.
The people are not able to enjoy effective public services from the local administrative bodies as little authority and economic resources have been devolved to these bodies.
Public services have proved expensive for the ordinary people as a result of the neo-liberal capital economy. Therefore, the ownership of public services has to remain under the state so as to make the public services accessible to the ordinary people in an easy and simple manner.
The structure of the public services, to be provided by the state, has to expand with the objective of making them easy and accessible to the ordinary people of the country. Privatisation of public enterprises has to be brought to its end, and the state has to give them freedom and autonomy to run in a professional manner without any political interference. The state has to increase its investment in the economically weak and sick enterprises. The policy of establishing new public enterprises or expanding the structure of the existing ones has to be adopted by increasing state investment in those sectors providing basic needs and services to the people like education, health, food, drinking water, supply, accommodation and transportation.
The role of the trade union in making the public services flow effectively to the ordinary people is very important. Trade unions can play an effective role in developing a good culture, minimising irregularities and corruption, providing fast and effective services in a simple and easy manner, and increasing productivity in the public enterprises. Additionally, the role of trade union has remained very high and effective in ensuring justifiable wages, job security, career development, trade union rights, and social security to the labourers.
The public services can be extended and made accessible to the ordinary people in the real sense when the labourers and employees are motivated, and the state has a positive attitude towards providing public services to the people.
The slogan of the congress can be realised in the real sense if this congress of labourers working in the public sector can do a correct analysis of the problems arising globally in the public sector, and format an action plan to address them with capable leaders.
This congress to be held in Kathmandu will not only hold discussion on the common issues of the employees in the public sector but also elect a dynamic leadership to formulate a concrete action plan so as to promote the WFTU's guideline through seminars, trainings and other similar capacity enhancing programmes. Against this backdrop, the visionary minds of the leaders aiming to be in the forefront of the TUI should be able to bring new members/trade unions to the WFTU. Expansion of TUI membership throughout the world is equally important through committees at the regional level as well as establishment of offices in each continent. These administrative arrangements are essential so as to conduct regular meetings, seminars and interactions at the regional level.
(The author is Member of the WFTU Presidential Council)